It is becoming increasingly common to see Western rape statistics invoked in response to concerns about sexual violence and gender inequality within Pakistani or broader Muslim societies. Such memes, distributed on social media, tend to be accompanied by sweeping statements regarding the general moral depravity of the West.

According to the United Nations, the highest figures for reported rape cases per capita are consistently recorded in Europe, followed by America. In the minds of the ill-informed, this is decisive evidence of the West’s depravity and moral bankruptcy, particularly when compared with those chaste Islamic societies in which reported rape rates are much lower. However, such a statistical disparity merely reflects the fact that survivors of sexual violence in the West are afforded better protection under the law and better access to the justice system. Consequently, they are more likely to report a crime to the police.

Rape is grossly under-reported in many parts of the world due to a combination of intense social stigma, discriminatory laws, inadequate law enforcement, and a strong patriarchal culture which suppresses woman’s rights and normalises violence against them. For an untold number of victims, the unwillingness to reporting rape is simply a matter of self-preservation. Patriarchal societies reduce women’s worth to their bodies. Female value is perceived to reside in their sexual “purity”, and the emphasis on obedience to patriarchal honour codes leads to violence against them when these codes are violated. The shame incurred by a perceived loss of honour can have devastating and sometimes fatal consequences for victims of sexual abuse.

The mentality within Muslim communities is that any woman who loses her virginity before marriage is un-marriageable, even if she is a victim of rape. As a result, many victims are forced to marry their rapists. Algeria, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and Indonesia all have laws allowing rapists to walk free if they marry their victims.

But even where such laws do not exist, for example, Pakistan, tradition and customary practices encourage marriage to one’s rapist as a means of avoiding the shame and dishonour associated with rape; shame and dishonour borne, not by the attacker, but by the victim.

Victims are shamed and bullied by these societies. Some commit suicide. Others are disowned by their families or subjected to violence. Every year 1,000 murders in the name of “honour” are reported in Pakistan alone. 5,000 are reported each year worldwide, mainly affecting women of South Asian, Middle Eastern and North African descent. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Countless honour killings are passed off as suicides or accidents, and entire families and communities are complicit in the murders and subsequent cover-ups. What is even more tragic is that honour killings are rarely prosecuted.

The crucial issue of sexual consent has become muddled under religious laws. Apart from a few exceptions such as Turkey and Kazakhstan, marital rape is not recognised as a crime in Muslim majority countries. The prevailing view, that a husband has control over and the right to his wife’s body with or without her consent, is deeply entrenched.

When the absence of a law criminalising marital rape is paired with the legal or social acceptance of child marriage, it enables men to sexually exploit and rape children with impunity. Unlike Yemen and Saudi Arabia, most Muslim majority nations do not allow child marriage under their civil laws. However, religious institutions often have the power to override civil law, leaving young girls with no legal protection from this form of abuse. These are countless rapes that will never be recorded in the statistics.

Survivors who report rape also run a significant risk of being prosecuted and convicted for adultery under some versions of Sharia. The law deliberately blurs the distinction between consensual extra-marital sex and rape by treating rape as a subcategory of the crime of zina (adultery). Zina laws explicitly discriminate against women by creating a legal mechanism for rape victims to be accused of unlawful sexual intercourse, if they fail to prove that they were raped. Punishments in different countries range from public flogging and lengthy prison sentences to stoning to death.

In 2007, the case of Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, a 13-year-old Somali girl, shocked the world. Aisha was gang raped by three men. Her family reported the crime to the militia controlling the area where they live. No effort was made to identify or arrest the rapists. Instead, Aisha was accused of zina, buried in the ground and stoned to death.

Last year, Human Rights Watch reported that 600 women, many of whom attempted to report rape only to find themselves accused of zina, are imprisoned in Afghanistan for so called “moral crimes.” This is a regular occurrence in many Islamic states, and was the case in Pakistan until 2006 when the Women’s Protection Bill was passed.

This Bill has improved the legal status for rape survivors in Pakistan; nevertheless, the chances of successful prosecution against rapists remain slim. Five years ago, the conviction rate was less than 4% according to the NGO War Against Rape (WAR). Over the last five years, the conviction rate for rape cases has fallen to a disturbing 0%, according to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Syeda Sughra Imam. In contrast, according to figures released by the Crown Prosecution Service, the rape conviction rate in British courts was 63% last year.

Even when victims who are fortunate enough to escape the prospect of being forced to marry men who have violated them or being murdered in the name of “honour,” those bold enough to pursue justice must pay for their defiance with stigmatisation.

In an example illustrative of how the system favours rapists over victims, Section151(4) of Pakistan evidence code states:

 “When a man is prosecuted for rape or an attempt to ravish, it may be shown that the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character.”

Besides the obvious fact that a victim’s sexual history or “morality” is completely irrelevant to a defendant’s guilt or innocence, women deemed to be of “immoral character” are in this way denied legal protection and can, apparently, then be raped with impunity. Is it surprising then, that some men will think it is acceptable to rape women?

While pointing to Western rape statistics might soothe the patriotic sentiments and religious pride of some, the truth behind the low number of reported rapes is not evidence of healthier societies, but of the ruthless denial of justice to the victims of sexual violence.

Contrary to what authors of Western rape statistics memes would like you to believe, official rape statistics, in their proper legal and social context, prove that restricting women’s rights and freedoms, and denying women sexual autonomy, does not prevent rape — it only prevents survivors of sexual violence from seeking justice.

Lejla Kurić writes on women’s rights, human rights and social justice for Left Foot Forward, Britain’s No 1   left-wing political blog.